Philena Camden

Philena Camden
Philena Camden at age 49.

"The flowers are blosoming and grass starts everywhere and everything has the appearance of spring."

So notes one of Philena Camden's journal entries from 1855. She wrote this journal - and spent decades living in - a community known as Tower House, a small town located within today's Tower House Historic District of Whiskeytown National Recreation Area.

Born Philena Tower in Rhode Island on September 27, 1822, Philena received a letter from her brother, Levi, in 1852, inviting her to come to California to help him manage his Tower House Hotel. Philena headed west and met Levi's best friend and business partner, Charles Camden. The two instantly hit it off and Philena and Charles were married later the same year on November 11 in front of the house that Charles built. This house is known as the Camden House and today is the main building within the Tower House Historic District.

Philena showed courage in crossing the frontier to come out west at a time when very few women had done so. Women represented just 10 percent of California's population in the 1850s!

Philena gave birth to three girls with Charles: Ada, Mary Elecra, and Grace (Mary Electra's daughter, herself named Philena, was the person that the National Park Service purchased the property from for posterity in the late 1960s). Philena took care of Charles and the girls when they were in ill health, managed all of the domestic chores of the household, and coordinated this work with Camden family Chinese and American Indian servents, including Kate Camden.

Whiskeytown National Recreation Area has obtained copies of Philena Camden's journal entries from 1855, and these entries tell us that she spent significant time cooking and baking. The journal entries also show how she remained close with her brother Levi, the Camden's hosting Levi Tower for dinner on several occasions. Finally, her almost daily documentation of the weather spotlights a time when mankind was much more in tune with the land and the cycles of the seasons.

To provide the three girls with formal education, by the late 1860s, Charles and Philena lived with their girls in Oakland during the school year. However, the family continued to spend the entirety of every summer back at the Camden House and property, which they fondly referred to as the "Home Ranch." Charles himself was very active in the farming aspects of the Home Ranch for decades.

Philena Camden passed away on February 17, 1893. She is buried in Oakland, California, alongside her husband and partner of 41 years.


The Mid-1850s Diary Entries of Philena Camden

[Note" the diary entries were transcribed from Philena's handwriting as best as possible; but some words were unable to be deciphered. In the transcription below, " -----" means that the word or word was unable to be identified. Also in the transcription below, spellings are direct from Philena. Diary courtesy of Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, Hubbard Collection, WHIS 9007.]

Incidents of January 1855

The first week was cold and bleak most of the time with occasional squalls of snow on the flat and quite a depth on the mountains. The miners are anxious for rain but as yet we have had but little the heaviest rain being in ----, the first snow that fell here was the last day of December, but was very slight.

Mr. Camden commenced building his sawmill the last week in December --- let out the job to a Mr. Woodward of Vermont, and the ditching to Mr. Brownshield.

Mr. Camden went to Sacramento and San Francisco to procure iron -- for the mill and enjoyed the ----- at Sacramento, he started from here on the first afternoon, and the next day took the stage ---- Marysville. I staid alone some of the time and some times Nancy staid with me, but felt rather lonesome.

Second week of January ending 13 commenced with cold squally weather and was -------- through the week. Monday was quite a rainy day, tuesday pleasant and Charles came home and brought Mr. Clark with him, who had been to San Francisco, for a fortnight.

Charles had been well and seemed much pleased to get home and entered the house singing “Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.” He brought me a very handsome present of a set of jewelry, of which I am very pleased, not so much for their intrinsic value but for the kind regard in which he seems to hold me and our little Ada, when absent. Levi passed the eve with us and we were all amused with the details of the trip and the presents had to be exchanged. Mr. Hingman had sent Ada a table chair and Mr. Clark had bought Kate and Ada a doll apiece, besides the aples and oranges, all served to make quite an event, for the aples were the first I had seen since being home.

By this weeks mail we received a letter from Mr. Taylor.

Third week of January ending 21st was very pleasant weather rather cold but no rain. Mr. Camden went to town and bought a quantity of provisions paid ------ per pound for flour bought --- lbs. Levi went down to the valley. As for myself I do but little these short days but get three meals. Mr. Clark boards with us. He is getting ----- timber for the mill. Mr. Camden set out some ------

We received letter from home. They were all well. Uncle Charles had died and also William Sheldon’s wife.

Fourth week January ending 27th. The weather most delightful. The ----- ----- are all in bloom and the birds are singing merily nothing of consequence transpired.

Levi came home from the valley on Tuesday. Mr. Camden was very busy about the sawmill. Mr. Brownshield finished the ditch on satturday. The millwright thinks he will have it completed in three weeks.

We answered Mrs. Taylor’s letter in ----- Charles sent for certain ----.

The week commencing on Jan 28 and ending Feb 4th. The weather delightful except on the first – the last day of January which was rainy. Tuesday was Charles birth day and we had roast beef and plum pudding for dinner and Mr. Brownshield dined with us as he was at work for Charles. On Saturday they ran the floom. There was a terrible accident on the Sacrament River. The steamer Pearl blew up killing about 50 persons.

The flowers are blosoming and grass starts every where and everything has the appearance of spring ----. Last sabath we took tea with Levi and Nancy in the parlour.

The week commencing Feb 5th through 11th. Sunday was pleasant Charles and myself and Ada went to see the sawmill as ---- the floom and walked in the ditch up to the head water and drew the little wagon with Ada in it. Charles went out in the morning and shot three ducks.

Monday I washed. Mr. Hindman came up from the Bay. In the afternoon they let water through the ditch and I went to see of course, and it worked admirably.

Wednesday the 7th it commenced raining and rained until saturday night which is the most of a storm we had this winter and the creeks ar swolen considerable, so much so that Levi has put on the -----. I wrote to Mother and William on the 7th.

February comensing the --- ending 17th the weather through the week ---- changeable, raining little ---- at nights but very pleasant through the days. Mr. Woodward commenced running the floom on the 15th. Charles had four men to work for him ------- the underground work and has not got it done yet. I shall be very glad when it is done for he works so hard.

Levi went down to the valley and down to the ranch and was gone all the week went on monday and came back today. There has been a great excitement in town on the account of some men from Red Bluffs being in prison who hung a man by linsh law. The people threatened to take them out but did not finely.


February 18th and ending 25. The weather was delightful though rather colder than it had been. Nothing of note transpired until Saturday when the -------- of the failure of Adams ---- San Francisco which created tremendous excitement all over the country. Many a poor fellow ----- there all there were many in Shasta who lost their hard earned money.

26 was Sunday and Charles went to Shasta on Tuesday it commenced raining and continued until Saturday. Wednesday and Thursday the streams were swollen to a great ----- and nearly came up to the flood of 53.

Mr. Woodward was all ready to start the mill but the water had washed it so much under the mill that he could not.

March the 4th very pleasant. I staid at home as usual. Monday it rained also tuesday thursday they started the mill for the first time and sawed 120 feet. On Friday they finished the floom---- ---- jobs, ready to saw on Monday.

March --- a very pleasant day. I ---- up to the mill it goes beautifully.

The week commencing March 11th. It rained on monday and tuesday. Nothing unusual transpired. They sawed some. Mr. Woodward covered the mill and Mr. Camden went to town on Wednesday. Kate Johnson was married on the eighth and staid at the house all night on her way to Weaverville. She married a Mr. F----.

March 18th The weather fine through the week on monday Mr. Stodard bought the first lumber that had been sold from the mill. Levi came home on thursday and saturday they started the gristmill but it did not go very well for the want of more belting.

March 25 to April 1st

The weather was delightful on sunday and monday. On thursday Nancy and Levi went to town. Levi came back next day. On Friday it rained very hard also and on Saturday it raised the creek on which the mill stands so suddenly that there was great danger of it carrying away the gristmill so they were obliged to knock down the partition.

April first was a boisterous(?) day with alternate sunshine and showers of wind and rain and some sleet. Fred Fahnons took dinner with us. Mr. Woodward went to the Canon Creek.

On Monday I washed. Mr. Camden had a boil on his hands which made him about sick and it ------- him until wednesday. He cleared the dirt out from the wheel and started the mill on that day. The rest of the week he surveid the ditch and got it done on saturday, ready to let the job.

On Thursday night Mark Silverman was stabed by a gambler so bad that he died before morning. The man was arrested and awaits his trial in jail.

April eighth the weather continues fine, the air balmy. The trees are clad in the loveliest green and every thing seems to say God is good. I walked up to the mill with the baby, and saw the new house which looks very pleasant.

Monday washed as usual, and Charles worked at the mill. Tuesday and wednesday Clark and Brownshield made a commencement to saw and went to housekeeping in the new house.

Thursday and wednesday Charles finished surveying the ditch and set the job to three Irishmen. on Thursday it commenced raining and rained until Sunday and raised the creek quite high. Mr. & Mrs. Sheldon were here on thursday and went home on Friday in the rain.

April 15th was a ------ cold day. The storm has subsided but still we have slight showers and the mountains are covered with snow.

The remainder of the week was very pleasant. Charles is somewhat plagued with the mill as it does not run to suit him. Mr. Clark and Brownshield have given up the contract --- --------.

On Thursday Mr. Haywood left for the states. The mail got up which brought a letter from home. Mother does not enjoy very good health.

April 22, the weather very pleasant. Nothing transpired worthy of note with the exception of ---- having left for the states having received his pay in full. Nancy went to town on Wednesday.

April 30th was a delightful day but rather cool through the week with a heavy frost on the 3rd and 4th. The ball came off on the 1st and was a very pleasant afair -------- lacked a few more ladies to have made it every thing desired, as it was every one seemed very well satisfied. Charles went to town on Saturday and sold his houselot.

May 6th the day pleasant. Monday washed of course the week passed off very much as usual until saturday when Charles was taken sick with a boile on the nose and was very ------ which together caused quite a fever.

May 13th was a cold day for the season of the year. Charles was quite sick and took some pills which Mr. Lobb gave him. In the eve Dr. Frank and wife and daughter arrived at the house. she is just from the Atlantic states and was looking very tired and poor.

Monday Charles was no better. He had a very rough night on Sunday night. Tuesday he felt better and by saturday he had got well enough to go to Shasta on business and it rained hard in the afternoon.

May 21st was a showery day. Mr. Hindman and Levi took dinner with us.

Monday we had a hard hailstorm. The new sawyer has been here a week and they like him well so far.

Tuesday the sawyer had a man to help him. Charles and Clark and two others a building the flooming around the point.

Reciepts for making cake

Frosting cake

Blow for the white of one egg nine heaping teaspoonsfulls of double refined sugar, one of nice Poland starch. The sugar and starch should be pounded and sifted through a fine sieve. Beat the whites to a thick froth so that you can turn the plate upside down without the egg falling from it. Then stir in the sugar gradually with a wooden spoon. Stir it fifteen minutes without ceasation then add a teaspoonfull of lemon juice or vinegar will do. Lay the frosting on with a knife soon after it comes out of the oven and let it remain in a cool place until hard. To frost a common sized cake alow the white of one egg and half of another.

Plum cake or New England wedding cake

One pound of dried flower, one pound of sweet butter and pound of sugar, twelve eggs, two pounds of raisins, two pounds of currants, as much spice as you please, a glass of wine, one of brandy and a pound of citron. Mix the butter and sugar as for pound cake. Sift the spice and beat the eggs very light. Put in the fruit last stirring it in gradually. It should be well floured. If necessary it should be add more flour. Butter one large pan or two smaller ones line with sheets of paper, line with slices of citron then of the mixture and so on. This cake requires tolerable hot oven and is best to cool off in the open. Ice when thoroughly cool.

Pound cake

Mix a pound of sugar with three quarters of a pound of butter when worked white stir in the yolks of eight eggs beaten to a froth then the whites. Add a pound of flour and mace or nutmeg to your taste if you wish to have your cake particularly nice stir in just before you put it into the pans a quarter of a pound of citron or almonds blanched or powdered fine in rose water.

Sponge Cake

Take the weight of ten eggs in powdered loaf sugar beat it to a froth with the yolks of twelve eggs, put in the grated rind of a fresh lemon leaving out the white part, add half of the juice. Beat the whites of twelve eggs to a stiff froth and mix them with the yolks and sugar. Stir it without ceasation fifteen minutes then stir in gradually the weight of six eggs of sifted flour. As soon as the flour is well mixed in turn them into pans lined with buttered paper. It will bake in twenty minutes.

Specific for Cholera
By Sir James Clark

3 drachms spirit camphor
3 do -----------
3 do Oil Turpentine
3 drops of peppermint

For diarrhoea one teaspoonfull in a glass of brandy and water. For cholera one tablespoonfull in brandy and water.


Last updated: October 27, 2022

Park footer

Contact Info

Mailing Address:

P.O. Box 188
Whiskeytown, CA 96095


530 242-3400

Contact Us